A Million Ways to Die in the West Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 05.30.2014
Seth MacFarlane riffs on the Hollywood Western with his new film A Million Ways to Die in the West. Is this a hootenanny of a good time, or is it a disappointment? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Seth MacFarlane Written By: Seth MacFarlane, Alan Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild Runtime: 124 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated R
Albert Stark - Seth MacFarlane Anna - Charlize Theron Louise - Amanda Seyfried Clinch - Liam Neeson Edward - Giovanni Ribisi Foy - Neil Patrick Harris Ruth - Sarah Silverman Lewis - Evan Jones Cochise - Wes Studi George Stark - Christopher Hagen Millie - Alex Borstein Sheriff/Narrator - Rex Linn Snake Oil Salesman - Dennis Haskins
Comedy superstar writer and director, Seth MacFarlane, finally steps into the lead role and the limelight with his new western comedy film A Million Ways to Die in The West. The new film fails to surpass the heights of his directorial debut in Ted, but it’s still a fun, enjoyable and clever comedy with a great cast, witty dialogue, and some well constructed action set pieces. While A Million Ways to Die in the West is a comedy, I expected it to be in a similar vein to the material of Mel Brooks’Blazing Saddles. I was pleasantly surprised to see that was not the case. MacFarlane focuses more on melding his brand of humor to a traditional western movie setting.
A Million Ways to Die in the West follows the hapless, nerdy, and neurotic sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane). Albert is at the end of his rope with life on the frontier. He sucks at sheep farming. Life is rough and uncivilized in his town of Old Stump, Arizona. And to top it all off, his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) dumps him after Albert weasels his way out of a duel. Instead, she starts dating the snooty mustachioed mustachery owner, Foy (Harris).
Things quickly change after Anna (Theron) rides into town. Anna is the long-suffering wife of the West’s most dangerous outlaw and gunslinger Clinch (Neeson). She and Clinch’s cohort, Lewis (Evan Jones), plan to stay incognito in Old Stump until Clinch comes into town. After Lewis starts a brutal bar fight, Albert ends up saving Anna, and the two quickly become friends. Anna decides to help Albert with his romance problems with Louise, so Albert can build up his confidence and win her back. Unfortunately, Albert ends up unwittingly waging a gunfight duel against Foy in order to impress Louise. So Anna, an expert gunslinger, spends the week training Albert in the art of shooting. Her goals and motives are not clear, but she does appear to actually like Albert and has a lot in common with him. Anna explains that Albert should not crawl on his hands and knees and do anything just to please a girl who offers him nothing in return. However, soon Clinch will be riding into town with his gang. He probably wouldn't take kindly to a character like Albert charming up his wife.
MacFarlane finally steps up as the leading man here. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is his first live-action role since The Tooth Fairy, where he played a minor tooth fairy character opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sure, he played Ted in Ted, but that was still a CG character. MacFarlane’s Albert is the center of the story, and he does a great job.
It is surprising that in quite a few of the scenes, MacFarlane and his co-writers don’t always try to milk the situations for laughs. Although some sequences have some humorous parts, they are actually played out as traditional western or action set-pieces. This imbues the movie with MacFarlane’s own unique touch, without making it seem like a modern-day Blazing Saddles. As far as the dialogue, the main characters basically use contemporary dialogue and vernacular juxtaposed against a period setting. The best comparison is when Family Guy does a type of flashback story to ye olden times, and the characters still talk with a modern flair.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn't quite surpass the heights and effectiveness of Ted. For years MacFarlane’s material has exhibited that whole child of the ‘80’s, post-modern style. Ted very much played off of those sensibilities. The story had a main character at a crossroads, stuck in a state of perpetual adult male adolescence, and faced with the issue of putting away his toys and juvenile desires in order to grow up for the sake of his girlfriend. While A Millions Ways to Die in the West is good, the movie just doesn't quite have the heart that Ted does.
Another problem is that at around the midway point, the story moves in a clunky manner. The business with Anna and her motives is very unclear. She appears to be manipulating Albert for her own scheme, but what she’s up to never really makes sense. Clinch’s motivations as a villain are also weak. His establishing sequence is strong, but his subsequent moments do not quite measure up to his first scene. It’s unfortunate because if these elements had been fixed up, MacFarlane would have a more polished, tighter story.
The movie is anchored by a great supporting cast, between the spunky and fun Theron as Anna, and Giovanni Ribsi as Albert’s best friend, Edward, a man dating the hooker with a heart of gold, Ruth (Silverman). It is amusing that Ruth, despite being a hooker, refuses to have sex with Edward before they are married, because they are Christian. Harris is tremendous as the mustache connoisseur Foy. The movie is littered with a ton of great cameos that I prefer not to spoil here. One was already ruined by the trailers, but just as in Ted, there are many others.
The 411: A Million Ways to Die in the West was one of the better comedies I've seen this year, and I easily enjoyed it more than Neighbors and Blended. MacFarlane isn't quite able to match the greatness of his directorial debut in Ted, but this was a solid sophomore effort on his part. The movie has a good mix of MacFarlane's particular brand of comedy, some nice action sequences, great settings and locations, and a great traditional score. Don't leave during the credits for this one.